Vaginal Health

Updated 24 April 2015

What are vaginal infections?

Vaginal infections are common and can be caused by a number of factors. It is important to diagnose infections promptly to correctly treat the condition.

Vaginal infections are very common and affect most women during teenage years and adulthood. Vaginal infections can be caused by pathogens, such as yeast, viruses or bacteria. Symptoms of vaginal infection include a discharge, which can be discoloured and thicker and has an unusual smell. Common types of vaginal infections include the following:

1. Vaginal yeast infection

Also called thrush or candidiasis, a yeast infection is the most common type of infection of the vagina. Three out of four women will experience this before they reach menopause. It is caused by an excess growth of yeast-like fungi in the vagina. The main symptom is an intense burning and itching of the vagina. Thrush causes a clumped, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese and is odourless. 

The most common time to get thrush is before a period. You are more susceptible if you are taking antibiotics, birth control pills or steroids; if you are pregnant; if you have diabetes; or if you have had a recent illness. It is not sexually transmitted.

2. Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis causes a thin, gray discharge with an unusual fishy smell, which becomes worse after sex or washing with soap. The causes of this infection are not always clear. It is associated with having a new or multiple sexual partners, the use of an IUD or diaphragm, pregnancy, and with frequent douching. It may also occur in women who are not sexually active or have none of these risk factors.

3. Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis causes a more frothy, foamy, greenish-yellow discharge with an unpleasant smell. The discharge is often worse after a period. Itching could be severe. It is caused by a tiny parasite, which is spread by sexual contact. You, or your sex partner, can be infected but have no symptoms for a long time.

Other causes include herpes infections, scabies and lice.

Reviewed by Dr Owen Wiese, April 2015


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